How to create an effective records retention program – Part One

Posted by TAB on

In a great blog post on the AIIM website, one of the regular contributors, Don Lueders, CRM, CDIA, made the case for a new measure of RIM performance. Why not simply base it on the quantity of content defensibly destroyed each year?

In a business environment in which paper and electronic records are both on the rise, we think Don’s suggestion has a lot of merit.

It also raises an interesting question. How would records management change if defensible disposition became the primary RIM performance metric?

It’s all about retention scheduling

The key word in the proposed metric is the word “defensible” – showing that you have destroyed the documents only after they are no longer required by law or by the organization itself. Since retention schedules are the “playbook” for defensible disposition, if the metric were adopted we expect that a lot more time and attention would be given to:

  • Making sure the retention schedule is complete and accurate
  • Making sure it is applied consistently and accurately

So how do you do that?

Creating an effective retention program

An effective records retention program consists of the retention schedule itself and the processes that surround it.

The schedule itself must include the following elements:

  • a description of the records
  • the retention periods of all records in the category
  • the medium used to record and store information
  • the location where records are stored
  • the date and method of records disposition

To fill in these blanks, you need to first establish a records classification system and then determine the optimal retention periods:

  • Records classificationBefore you can specify how long to retain different types of records, you need to first establish what those records types are. The best approach to doing so is to create a functional classification scheme, in which records are grouped based on the particular business functions that they support. This can be a challenging exercise, so it often helps to follow a best practice guide to developing a functional classification scheme or to enlist the help of a partner like TAB.
  • Determine applicable retention periodsOnce the functional classification is complete, the next step is to review the applicable legislation and industry guidelines that dictate retention periods for various record types. For each category of records you also need to consider their: fiscal value, legal value, administrative value, and historical value. Combining all these factors will help you arrive at the optimal retention period for each record type.Depending on the state of your existing retention schedule, this step can take a good deal of time and effort, but it is an important investment. The defensibility of your document destruction efforts hinges on the accuracy of the retention periods.

Moving beyond the schedule

A retention schedule is only one aspect of a retention program. In next week’s blog post we will outline the essential components of an effective records retention program.

Next Steps

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